Food as Medicine: An Idea Whose Time Has Finally Come
When you think of medicine, what’s the first image that comes to mind?
Is it a multi-colored prescription pill, perhaps, or is it a bountiful harvest of colorful fruits and vegetables?
If you polled 100 random people on the street, odds are they would likely pick the former.
Looking at the statistics for prescription drug expenditures in the United States over the last fifty-plus years, it’s easy to understand why: prescription drugs have been wired into the public consciousness as our first line of defense against disease and disease symptoms.
Prescription drug expenditures rose every year from 2005 to 2020, from 208.6 billion in 2005 to 348.4 billion in 2020.
Recently, this trend has given way to an entirely new, yet entirely familiar concept for anyone who has followed the traditions of history’s greatest healers, however: the idea of food as medicine.
It’s a model that doctors, medical centers, hospitals and other institutions are now embracing as a mainstream solution to modern diseases whose time has finally come.
The Case for Nutrition as Medicine in Comparison with Drugs
The efficacy of food as medicine has been demonstrated anecdotally, in clinics and medical journals for centuries, and research has continued to bridge the knowledge gap in recent years.
Recently, a comparison between food as medicine, prescription drugs, and supplementation was published by Advanced Micronutrition, a platform promoting evidence-based nutrition and unity among food as medicine companies through science.
According to recent research from The Permanente Journal, a peer-reviewed publication from Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest nonprofit healthcare plans in the United States, evidenced-based nutrition as medicine offers several advantages.
Unlike medicines, there are no serious side effects using this approach. Clinically proven outcomes are common using the nutrition as medicine model, and the adherence rates of nutrition as medicine models dwarf those of medications.
For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, some medications for Type 2 Diabetes have serious side effects including "risk of pancreatitis, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, risk of congestive heart failure, risk of bladder cancer, risk of bone fractures, urinary tract infections…" while the Cleveland Clinic references the serious side effects of some statin medications including "constipation or nausea, headaches and cold-like symptoms, sore muscles with or without muscle injury, liver defects, increased blood glucose levels, reversible memory issues…"
As evidence-based food as medicine grows, consumers will have more opportunities to enjoy the ease of adherence and efficacy, without the side effects. Products like Healright Daily Micronutrient Bars support optimal blood sugar and glucose metabolism, support healthy heart markers including cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce chronic inflammation and obesity markers and improve gut performance. All through the Food as Medicine approach referenced in the image below.
Plus, according to The Permanente Journal, adherence to chronic medications is low, between 40 to 50%, while patients have been shown to follow evidence as nutrition based plans by up to 90%.
Nutrition as Medicine is Growing in Popularity
In California, Dr. Daniel Nadeau of the ‘Shop With Your Doc’ program was profiled for a recent NPR article. The program was designed by the Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center of the St. Joseph Hoag Health Alliance to answer questions and offer suggestions to shoppers.
According to Dr. Richard Afable, the CEO and president of St. Joseph Hoag Health, medical institutions are working toward becoming more of a “health organization” than a healthcare organization.
Similarly, the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has five clinic sites throughout the city for its Therapeutic Food Pantry program, and is looking to expand. These sites offer prescribed bags of food for their conditions as well as cooking instruction.
“We really want to link food and medicine, and not just give away food,” said Dr. Rita Nguyen, the medical director of the hospital’s Healthy Food Initiatives.
“We want people to understand what they're eating, how to prepare it, (and) the role food plays in their lives.”
Another medical doctor, Dr. Ron Weiss of Long Valley, New Jersey, grows his own produce for patients who follow his prescriptions for using food as medicine.
When it comes to diet and nutrition, food can be a patient’s greatest partner in healing or their biggest enemy, according to Dr. Weiss.
“Food is so powerful in its abilities to heal, but also in its abilities to cause disease, and it just turns out that’s the basis of most people’s problems," said Weiss to New Jersey Monthly.
While medicine continues to focus on drugs, food as medicine is set to become the new focus worldwide.
Starvation and malnutrition remain persistent problems that food as medicine can help solve.
Currently, 2.37 billion people worldwide are currently without food or unable to eat a healthy, balanced diet on a regular basis, according to the United Nations’ latest count and sustainable development goals for 2030. By delivering key nutrition to where it is needed in specialized ways, suffering can be alleviated.
Nutrition Plans vs. Diet Plans: A Key Shift in the Industry
Food as medicine was listed as a key food trend in 2020 by TalkBusiness.net, especially in regard to plant-based foods. Nearly one in four adults in the United States were on a “nutrition plan with the goal of promoting long-term health, but not necessarily weight loss.”
This is a considerable change from previous decades where weight loss and dieting through companies like Weight Watchers and Slim Fast were among the most popular mainstream diets.
According to TalkBusiness, the shift to food as medicine is a “significantly different approach to making food choices.”
The organization deemed it “a dramatic shift in the way consumers approach food and beverage choices.
“Increasingly consumers see food and beverages as a pathway to better health; this is more pronounced among younger adults,” they continued.
“One in five adults manages a health condition with food and beverage choices. This doesn’t mean they aren’t taking medication, but that many first look at their food and beverage consumption options as the first solution before medication.
The efficacy of these companies and programs is backed by a collection of robust, evidence-backed research that can be viewed here.
Nutrition-Based Medicine Can Prevent, Treat, and Reverse Disease
Diet and nutrition may not always be the solution, but physicians and governments everywhere agree — too much of the wrong food causes disease.
According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke are caused by high blood pressure, smoking, and low consumption of the right nutrition from fruits and vegetables among other factors.
The food as medicine paradigm helps to address these problems at their roots, offering a more holistic and complete way to prevent, treat and reverse disease.
Dr. Brenda Rea helps oversee the family and preventive medicine residency program in Loma Linda, a California city where people routinely live an average of ten years longer than the national average for both men and women.
She is among those who know first-hand why the food as medicine approach is here to stay, and should only grow in the coming months and years.
“It's a different paradigm of how to treat disease,” Dr. Rea said.
“What people eat can be medicine or poison,” Rea added.
Many of the Food as Medicine options are becoming available at your local doctor's office and specialized practitioners as well as directly through the company websites.
Starting July 2022 consumers will have better in-store solutions available to them to bridge the gap between traditional dietary supplements and medications. Kroger stores will feature Healright Daily Micronutrient Bars in the pharmacy offering consumers a unique blend of micronutrients and fiber developed over 15 years by world-renowned scientists at Children’s Hospital & Research Center at Oakland to fill in key nutrient gaps, supporting metabolic health using food as medicine.
Without additional diet or lifestyle changes, clinical studies have shown in the above image that Healright Daily Micronutrient Bars positively impact health markers for Cholesterol & Triglycerides, Insulin resistance & Glucose metabolism, Chronic inflammation & Obesity markers, and Gut Performance. To learn more about Healright, visit the Healright.com shop.
For a a snapshot of other Food as Medicine brands with evidence-based science behind their products, visit https://foodmed.health/evidence/.